Those who sit in this Loge Level openly admit to having an unprofessional bias favoring pitchers and catchers. That mindset really finds itself challenged when the realization hits that a talented prospect can work on either end of the battery but instead heads in a different direction. Twins no. 1 pick Nick Gordon was the top high school bat grabbed in the 2014 draft, but don’t overlook that he once touched 94 on the mound. Then there’s Alex Jackson, who was up next at sixth overall to the Mariners, and left the prep ranks as the nation's top catcher. A pitcher and a catcher are now a shortstop and an outfielder? How can this be? I guess we’ll get over it—after all, the brats and dogs are really unforgettable at the stand at the top of aisle 105, and this always seems to distract us.
Having a chance to speak with Jackson in June 2013 at the Perfect Game National Showcase, and then again this past Sunday night as part of the SiriusXM show MLB Roundtrip with Baseball Prospectus presented by Perfect Game, provided a unique perspective into this prospect’s development. First of all, the move that I sarcastically scolded above was a move that did not come as a huge surprise. He ran a 6.83 60 at the showcase and threw 98 mph from the outfield as well, proving as a catcher that he was truly athletic enough to move. But heading into his senior year at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo HS, he was all in on wearing the gear.
“I love everything about it (catching). You’re always in the game. You’re in every pitch. You’re never bored. It’s just get in there and go and do your thing position. I definitely love it,” Jackson shared with me at the '13 showcase. “I definitely like to make sure that I know what’s going on with all of the players on the field, so I do consider myself a leader when I’m catching.”
But to know the one-time Oregon commit is to understand a player who optimistically moves from challenge to challenge and adjusts to each as if they are all blessings, which is not always common for an 18-year-old multimillionaire.
“It was fun. It was enjoyable. I was out on the field playing baseball, so that’s all I can ask for. The transition hasn’t been very tough as my teammates, my coaches and everyone in the Mariners organization has helped me and just made it a great experience so far, and that’s only a couple of months into it. So I look forward to what’s held for me in the future, but I’m having a great time and I’m very happy where I am,” Jackson said about his new position.
“There are a lot of things that go on from an outfielder’s perspective and it’s kind of hard to see that from outside the field. I wouldn’t say that there’s been a lot of taking things out of the game because you have to be ready every pitch,” Jackson said. “You could be hit a ball three times in a row or you could get one every three innings or something like that. You have to be ready every pitch and be ready to go when your time’s called for.”
Jackson’s 23 games for Seattle’s Arizona Rookie League squad produced a line of .280/.344/.476 with 10 of his 23 hits for extra bases. Playing baseball in triple-digit temperatures is most certainly a learning experience for a San Diego native, but then again playing pro ball anywhere for the first time is like pulling up a chair in a classroom.
“The biggest thing is probably the speed of the game, the consistency and the way everyone just plays together. We’re all playing for the same thing,” Jackson said. “Everyone’s out there having fun, enjoying themselves, the consistency is there and the speed of the game picks up quite a bit from high school. That would probably be the most noticeable thing I figured out once I reach pro ball.”
Don’t you also figure out that playing professionally, especially in the minor leagues, is playing more for self than for team? After all, teams don’t get promoted–individuals do. Yet Jackson manages to look beyond this notion as he carves his own path.
“You know what…it is. If you look at it from the outside that’s the big picture, that’s how it is. But at the same time, at least for us as players, we’re trying to win as a team,” he explained. “We’re not looking to go out there and try to play it by ourselves. We try to feed off of our teammates. We try to feed off of our coaches. We try to move as a team together and all progress at the same time, per se. Maybe that doesn’t happen, but we try to compete as a team, we try to do everything as a team and we try to help each other out. “
The journey into the outfield didn’t come without its adventures and pitfalls. On July 21st, Jackson lost a ball in the lights while attempting a sliding catch, and was hit in the face with the batted ball. He missed about a month of the season with a small fracture in his sinus area. But as we learned before, the idle baseball player didn’t waste that time or allow it to affect his outlook.
“It was tough. It was tough not being out on the field, being able to help contribute to my team’s success. But at the same time, I knew that I was in great hands, the trainers took great care of me and I can’t complain at all. It was tough not being able to play, but I was glad to be able to watch the team have a very successful season,” Jackson said.
So we learn that Alex’s attitude, approach and work ethic come handed down from dad Dorian and mom Michelle.
“My mom sets an amazing example for me. The way she goes and she does her thing and makes sure that I have everything I need. She’s always there to support me and has my back on everything and it’s definitely a great feeling,” Jackson said in 2013.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s been since I was young, it’s been taught to me since I was little. You have to go out there and you have to work for everything that you have,” he said this past Sunday. “You can’t get to a certain level and just expect everything to come to you; you’ve got to work for what you get in life. So never stop working hard, just go out there and have fun. You never know what’s going to happen so go out there have fun and enjoy yourself.”
Jackson continues life here in Arizona, and continues to master life in the outfield at Mariners Instructional League.
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